The National Archives has digitized thousands of documents, images, and movies related to Native American history and culture.  This is the fifth in a series of blogs highlighting the records available online through the National Archives catalog.  Interested in photos of Indian Reservations?  Check out this blog for more information.

NAID 50926110.pngMap of the Eastern Boundary of the Ute Indian Reservation, NAID 50926110

Federal Indian Reservations are officially defined as “an area of land reserved for a tribe or tribes under treaty or other agreement with the United States, executive order, or federal statute or administrative action as permanent tribal homelands, and where the federal government holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Currently there are 326 federal Indian Reservations, which cover 56 million acres in 25 US states.

Central Map File, 1800 – 1960

40 digitized maps of tribal lands and reservations.

The modern federal Indian Reservation system began with the passage of the Indian Appropriations Act in 1851.  The act authorized the setting aside of tracts of land for removed Native American tribes, ostensibly in order to protect them from further encroachment by white settlers.  These reservations came to be managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which was created in 1824 to manage relations between Native Americans and the US Government. The BIA enacted a program of religious and cultural assimilation among reservation inhabitants, including the creation of Indian Schools to erase traditional knowledge and practices from Native American children.

"Long-hair" letter from Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Superintendent, Round Valley, California.

1902 letter instructing the Superintendent to discourage men from wearing long hair and both genders from painting their faces.

1888: File 5179

Correspondence about the use of brass tags as identification among the Tonto, San Carlos, Coyotero, Yuma and Mojave tribes. Included in the file are photos of five sample brass tags to be worn by male members of the tribes.

Letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Superintendent of the Consolidated Ute Agency

1926 letter instructing the Superintendent to oppose the use of peyote in religious ceremonies.

The 1930s saw a period of reform of the federal government’s policy towards Native Americans.  The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (colloquially referred to as the “Indian New Deal” was intended to reverse the BIA’s policy of Native American assimilation and federal control of reservations.  The act put reservation assets under tribal control and encouraged sustainable self-rule for the inhabitants of reservations.  The rise of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and 1970s brought further calls for Native American rights and self-determination in the reservation system.

An Act of June 18, 1934, Public Law 73-383, 48 STAT 984, to Conserve and Develop Indian Lands and Resources; To Extend to Indians the Right to Form Business and other Organizations; To Establish a Credit System for Indians; To Grant Certain Rights of Home Rule to Indians; To Provide for Vocational Education for Indians; and for Other Purposes

(Annual) Narrative Report of the Superintendent, Sacramento Indian Agency, California for the Fiscal Years 1936 and 1937, by Roy Nash, ca. 10/1/1937

Includes on- and off-reservation Native American population statistics, California reservation lands, industrial development, and social conditions.

Special Action Files of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs for the 93rd Congress

Investigation of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

Bradley Patterson's Native American Programs Files, 1974 – 1976

Correspondence between Native American representatives and the Nixon and Ford Administrations about the issues facing specific tribes and reservations

NAID 5964876 Collage.jpgBrass Identification Tags, NAID 5964876

Of course, this blog post is far from comprehensive- for any researcher, a thorough perusal of the National Archives catalog is an absolute must.  For more tips on searching for digitized records in the catalog, check out this post on Expanding Your Digital Toolkit.  Researchers interested in records described in the catalog that haven’t been digitized should get in touch with the appropriate National Archives reference unit using the contact information at the bottom of the page.